Blade Runner 2049 had a very tough legacy to live up to as a sequel to a cult classic widely considered to be one of the greatest science fiction films of all time. Yet it surpassed all of my expectations and perhaps even surpassed the original Blade Runner. I don’t say that lightly: Blade Runner is easily one of my favorite movies. Its atmosphere and themes immediately drew me in the first time I watched it.
The Blade Runner films are both set in a dystopian Los Angeles where synthetic humans called replicants are bioengineered to serve as slaves to mankind. In Blade Runner, the main character is a type of cop known as a blade runner who hunts down rogue replicants. When it was originally released in 1982, the film polarized critics and underperformed in the box office. Its themes and visuals were praised, but its slow pacing was heavily criticized. However, it soon became a cult film due to not only its complex themes and visuals, but also because of the uncommon combination of noir and science fiction and its retrofitted vision of the future. It is now considered to be a leading example of neo noir films, influencing numerous movies, games, anime, and TV series. The sequel, Blade Runner 2049, is set 30 years later, where the main character is also a blade runner who discovers a secret that could lead to a possible war between replicants and humans.
Blade Runner 2049’s visuals are as stunning as the original’s. While the sequel continues with the iconic futuristic design of Blade Runner, 2049 utilizes imagery closely related with nature. K, the main character, explores a world with not only cluttered buildings but barren deserts, crashing waves, snow, and of course, rain, which was a key visual theme in the original movie. Furthermore, production designers tried to convey brutality throughout every scene. The cityscape often has a desaturated color palette that contrasts with the myriad neon signs and giant holograms. Orange dust, foggy composition, water, and light – each meant to convey a theme or emotion – are other distinctive looks throughout the movie. For example, the harsh rain and foggy composition shows both a degrading environment and accentuates the loneliness and brutality of the city. The cinematographer Roger Deakins, noted for his work on The Shawshank Redemption, Skyfall, and Sicario, created a visually stunning world that doesn’t distract, but rather adds to the film’s emotional journey. What’s even more amazing is that the film only used four green screens for the entire production, and most of the film was done with scale models and miniatures – just like the original.
However, 2049 isn’t a film with only visuals to boast about: there is great character development and the entire cast captures the nuances of their character perfectly. Ryan Gosling, who plays K, is amazing as a blade runner discovering what it means to be human in a world where personal relationships barely exist. Gosling captures the vulnerability of his character extremely well and he plays a leading character that the audience can sympathize with and root for. Most of the movie’s themes rest upon his actions, and his struggle with understanding what constitutes as “real” in such an artificial world was delivered beautifully. While this film can be seen as a male-led film, as was the original, the female characters are far more developed and interesting. Each character has their own story to tell, and this film is able to show all of them with all of their complexities.
Blade Runner 2049 had every chance to be a cash grab that rehashed the old themes of the original, yet it turns out to be a beautiful film that expands the Blade Runner universe and explores new themes. Only time will tell if it becomes a classic like the original, but it is sure to be a film to be remembered.